DURHAM, N.C. —Researchers at Duke University may one day give countless heart attack patients a second chance for a healthy life. Using rodents, study authors have revealed a potential way to turn back the clock following a heart attack.

The human heart is capable of incredible feats, beating over 100,000 times and pumping over 2,000 gallons of blood throughout the body on a daily basis, but it isn’t quite as skilled when it comes to post heart attack recovery. Cardiovascular disease (which includes having a heart attack) is the leading cause of death on a global scale. The research team used RNAs to instruct cells within an injured heart to eliminate scar tissue and recreate cardiac muscle, ultimately allowing the heart to function like new again.

“Adult human hearts are not very good at repairing themselves,” says Conrad Hodgkinson, an associate professor of medicine and pathology at Duke University School of Medicine, in a media release. “Once they have a heart attack or any type of damage, there’s no capacity to replace the heart muscle that dies. So, what the heart does to stop itself from basically blowing up is it activates fibroblasts to come in and form a scar.”

Similar to skin scars caused by injury or surgery, scar tissue generated in the heart after a heart attack is generally tough and non-flexible. This scar tissue can then prevent the heart from functioning at its full potential, Prof. Hodgkinson explains.

Researchers set out to identify an efficient way of converting that scar tissue back into functioning cardiac muscle. In other words, they wanted to find a way to essentially reverse the effects of a heart attack. To start, they focused on discovering a new way to transform fibroblasts, a type of cell that contributes to the formation of connective tissue, into heart muscle cells using a process known as cellular reprogramming.

Prof. Hodgkinson’s lab specializes in delivering reprogramming instructions to cells in the form of RNAs. Notably, however, they found adult fibroblasts are not very good at following instructions and are resistant to reprogramming.

“We found that if you take cardiac fibroblasts from juveniles, they reprogram very nicely,” Prof. Hodgkinson adds. “But, if you take cardiac fibroblasts from adults, they don’t, in fact, respond at all. So, we tried to understand whether the aging process was actually interfering with fibroblast reprogramming.”

Published in StudyFinds